On February 27, 1999, Nadeem Khateeb’s family learnt he was dead. A report published in March of that year says his family received a call from London informing the Khateebs about his death during a gunfight. “Your son and two other mujahideen have been martyred in Udhampur,” the caller said.
On February 21, Khateeb was shot dead at Buthal village on the Gool heights of Udhampur district. All that Khateeb’s family was able to learn is that their son was asked to return to India by his organization.
His wealthy Srinagar family had no inkling of their son having become a militant. The son of a retired Chief Engineer, Khateeb had been living in the United States, working as a well-paid flight instructor in a Georgia school where he had obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 1995.
Khateeb was a graduate in geology, geography and economics. In 1994 he attended a flight training school in Georgia and joined the same school as a staff flying instructor.
At an age of 30 he left his dream profession in the US, and chose to take another path. Khateeb friends describe as a person “who watched from the sidelines” as protests raged in Kashmir.
One of his closest friends, Ishfaq Majeed Wani, grew up to be a commander of the resistance group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front which challenged Indian rule. While Ishfaq spearheaded the militant rebellion against India, Khatteb never talked about joining the ranks of the militants, says his father, Inayatullah Khateeb.
Engaged to a girl who was his relative, he was reluctant to marry, nobody knew why, maybe he was trying to focus on his career but his leaving the US to take up the armed struggle explains it all, he says.
After being in the US for many years, a close friend explains it thus: ‘‘He used to brood a lot on the US exploitation of the Muslim countries. He said that after being in the US for so many years, his eyes had finally opened”.
Khateeb had joined the militant group Al-Badr for arms training in Kashmir, before crossing the Line of Control. “He would call us and tell us he was fine. How would we know where he was calling from? We thought he was in the US,” his father says.
His mother Mehjabeen Khateeb says, “I have no regrets. I have absolute faith that my son was a martyr and is thus alive.” “Whenever I am alone, I feel his presence. When I stand up on the prayer mat, I feel him next to me. He was always his mother’s boy,” she says.
He grew up in the company of Ishfaq who was killed in an gun fight in 1991. Wani was among the first few Kashmir youth to cross over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training after the 1987 Assembly elections. The two were good friends and classmates; they even played cricket together.
“He lived a normal life till graduation,” says Mehjabeen. “But Ishfaq’s death moved him. He started saying that he would have to do something now. When the uprising started we sent him to a flying school in Karnal thinking that it would stop him from joining any group. Since the school had only a few planes, he applied for a flying course in the US and left Kashmir in 1995.”
The shy friend of Ishfaq, who spent years with him in Biscoe School, had not walked his path. But years after Ishfaq’s death, Khateeb became the first non-resident Kashmir person to have returned to fight the Indian rule in the state.